Dutch annual General Political Assembly overshadowed by refugee crisis

The first day of the Dutch annual General Political Assembly (Dutch: ‘Algemene Politieke Beschouwingen’) in the Dutch Lower House for a large part was dominated by the increased influx of refugees. All party chairmen gave attention to the issue. According to the Dutch anti-Islam party chairman Geert Wilders (Party for Freedom) the Netherlands is in danger of becoming one big refugee centre.

The Party for Freedom (PVV) leader once again brought dismay upon himself from other parties by warning for the massive inflow of Muslims. Dutch tax-money is the Netherlands’ biggest export product, according to Wilders. ‘The cabinet rather spends money on foreign countries and foreigners than on the Netherlands and the Dutch people’, the PVV-leader argued.

Wilders read from a, according to him secret, list of Dutch locations were refugee centers are still going to be opened. ‘Almost half of the municipalities in the Netherlands are in danger of accommodating a refugee center’, he said. Green-Left (GroenLinks) party-leader Jesse Klaver said he was unable to detect ‘a shred of humanity’ in Wilders.

The Labour Party-leader (PvdA) Diederik Samson stated that the consequences of the refugee crisis are worse that the bank crisis of 2008. ‘At that time banks collapsed but now people drown’, he said.

Law aims to boost halal, kosher food for poor

DETROIT — For the first time, the federal government is required to purchase and provide food banks emergency supplies of kosher or halal products, serving a population whose survival could otherwise be at odds with strictures of faith.

The void was first revealed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which wreaked havoc on the East Coast in the fall of 2012 and led to food shortages for those most in need.

A Jewish philanthropic organization in New York alerted lawmakers to the rising numbers of people coming to its food banks and often finding shelves devoid of kosher offerings. That led to legislation aimed at boosting emergency supplies for food prepared in accordance with Jewish and Muslim dietary rules, and, after some unsuccessful attempts at passage, the measure was tucked into the sweeping federal farm bill signed into law in February.

Federal agriculture officials now must implement the novel law, which requires them to buy food prepared in accordance with the faiths’ dietary rules but isn’t more expensive than regularly produced food. Then, it must be tracked through the distribution chain and properly labeled to ensure it gets to food bank operators and meets the needs of their clients.

The U.S. Agriculture Department’s challenges include gauging the demand and finding vendors that can supply the appropriate amount of food to keep it cost-neutral.

Demand for kosher food is high in the New York metropolitan area, and both the New York and Detroit areas are major centers of halal consumption.

The USDA currently buys some kosher and halal foods but not in an organized, regulated fashion. It’s hard to know how soon the full effort can launch or how successful it will be, but a test run that predates the Farm Bill’s passage is underway.

Islamic Banks, Stuffed With Cash, Explore Partnerships in West

December 25, 2013

By Nathaniel Popper

 

A noted Muslim law scholar, Yusuf DeLorenzo, recently pored through the books of Continental Rail, a business that runs freight trains up and down the East Coast.

Along with examining the company’s financial health, Mr. DeLorenzo sought to make sure that the rail cars didn’t transport pork, tobacco or alcohol. He was brought in by American investment bankers who want to take rail cars bought by Continental Rail and package their leases into a security. The investment is being built for banks that are run according to Islamic law, which, among other things, prohibits investments in those three commodities. If the cars are acceptable, or halal, the deal will be one of the first in the United States to be completed in compliance with Islamic law.

“It’s a new territory for all of us,” said John H. Marino Jr., chief executive of Continental Rail.

The deal is a sign of how banks that comply with Islamic law are making inroads into the global banking scene and how Western businesses are working to meet the expectations of those banks. The banks can’t find enough acceptable places to park their money, many industry insiders say, so investment bankers are scurrying to assemble deals.

Over the last 30 years, the Islamic financial sector has grown from virtually nothing to over $1.6 trillion in assets, according to data from the Global Islamic Financial Review, an industry publication. The financial crisis has only encouraged the growth. Industry assets grew 19 percent in 2011 and 20 percent in 2012, in contrast to the less than 10 percent growth at non-Islamic banks in most of the world.

Until recently, Islamic banks have largely put their money to work in the Middle East — or, if they invested in other parts of the world, in real estate. Real estate is among the most popular investments under Islamic law, also known as Shariah, because a deal can be structured that does not require interest payments, which are prohibited by Shariah. But as the banks grow larger they are looking for new, more diverse places to put their money.

The deal with Continental Rail is attractive because the rail cars will spin off lease payments, rather than interest, and can be bought in bulk. The cars are also in the United States, which will help bring geographic diversity to the bank portfolios. The deal was brokered by a newly created team at Taylor-DeJongh, a Washington investment bank, looking to bring money from Islamic banks to the United States.

There are similar pushes around the world. A few non-Muslim African countries, including South Africa, have recently been talking about raising money using the Islamic financial instruments known as sukuk, which function much like bonds. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain announced in late October that England planned to become the first European country to issue sukuk. The global bank Société Générale is preparing to raise money from Islamic banks in the coming months.

“There is a gap between all the money coming in to Islamic banks and the deployment of that money into real economic assets,” said Sayd Farook, the global head of Islamic finance atThomson Reuters. “A crazy amount of money has gone into their coffers and they need somewhere to invest it.”

The first modern Islamic banks were founded in the 1970s, motivated by the Quran’s ban on riba, which has been interpreted as any fixed payment charged for money lending. Islamic banks have focused instead on putting their money into real assets and property, and sharing any resulting profits from the performance of an asset. Muslim mortgages, for instance, are structured so that the bank buys the house and then sells it to the occupant slowly over time. Stocks are generally considered acceptable as long as the companies issuing the stock adhere to Islamic law; casinos, banks and weapons companies are forbidden.

Islamic banks have religious scholars, like Mr. DeLorenzo, review their operations on a regular basis. Yet some Islamic scholars have criticized the banks for straying too far from the spirit of the Quran into the speculative realms of Wall Street. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between a Western investment and a Shariah one. For instance, an Islamic bank’s fixed-deposit account ties up a customer’s money for a set period of time, like a certificate of deposit. Instead of offering interest, the account offers a share of the profit from its investments. The “profit rate” of a one-year deposit currently is 1.9 percent at one major Middle Eastern bank.

There is a debate among Islamic scholars about what qualifies as halal. “The industry is going through soul-searching,” said Ayman A. Khaleq, a lawyer specializing in Islamic finance at the Morgan Lewis law firm in Dubai. “It’s far from settled.”

But these problems have not stopped the flood of deposits into banks like the Sharjah Islamic Bank, which is named for the city in the United Arab Emirates where it is based. The bank has 24 branches, some of which offer separate spaces for female and male customers. From 2006 to 2012, deposits there almost tripled to about $3 billion.

Muhammed Ishaq, the head of the treasury division at Sharjah, said that the bank’s problem was not attracting money, it was figuring out what to do with it. “It’s not very easy when any financing needs to be backed by some kind of asset,” Mr. Ishaq said.

Real estate has been a very popular investment in the Islamic world, but when real estate was hit hard during the 2008 financial crisis, many investors were reminded of the need for more diverse portfolios. For many banks the answer is sukuk. Like bonds, sukuk make regular payments to investors. But unlike a bond, which is a money loan, sukuk are structured as investments in hard assets that generate payments.

The amount of sukuk sold each year has grown sixfold from 2006 to 2012, to some $133 billion, according to Thomson Reuters’s Islamic financial data service, Zawya. A joint venture between Dow Chemical and Saudi Arabia’s national oil company sold a $2 billion sukuk this year to raise money for an oil complex. But this is falling far short of the demand from banks. “There are serious supply-side bottlenecks,” said Ashar Nazim, head of Ernst & Young’s Global Islamic Banking Center.

Now there are several efforts to create more supply. The Bank of London and the Middle East was founded in London with Kuwaiti money to find these new investment opportunities. “They wanted a wider range of Islamic assets that could be originated away from the Middle East,” said Nigel Denison, the bank’s treasurer.

Yavar Moini, the former head of Islamic banking at Morgan Stanley, said he was establishing an operation in Dubai that would gather assets from around the world that can be packaged into sukuk, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do in the United States with mortgages. Mr. Moini said that “it’s the absence of sufficient product or opportunities for Islamic investors that drives them into the conventional arena.”

In the United States there have been a few attempts at sukuk. In 2006, a Texas oil company sold a $166 million sukuk to finance oil exploration, but the company went bankrupt during the financial crisis. Then in 2009, General Electric issued a $500 million sukuk tied to aircraft leases.

Taylor-DeJongh, the 30-year old, energy-focused investment bank, is hoping to take advantage of the shortage. Ibrahim Mardam-Bey, who worked on the 2006 Texas sukuk, joined Taylor-DeJongh at the end of 2012 and has built a team of five bankers working on Islamic finance.

One deal would provide financing for private toll bridges. The other, which is further along, will bundle the rail cars managed by Continental Rail. The team has already signed a deal to buy 1,000 rail cars in Pennsylvania, and is looking to acquire 5,000 more.

Mr. Mardam-Bey said that some American businesses were hesitant to take money from Islamic banks, perhaps a byproduct of negative associations with Shariah since the Sept. 11 attacks. But in the Texas deal, and in many others, that tends to fade as the financial possibilities become clear.

“The borrower was a Texan wildcatter who couldn’t spell ‘sukuk,’ ” Mr. Mardam-Bey said. “But at the end of the day when I brought the check he didn’t care if I prayed to Allah. He just wanted the money.”

 

Dealbook/New York Times: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/12/25/islamic-banks-stuffed-with-cash-explore-partnerships-in-west/?_r=0

Islamic Gatehouse Bank to aid UK housing crisis

November 28, 2013

 

Britain’s mainstream banks may be reluctant to lend these days, but a Kuwait-backed Islamic bank is to become one of Britain’s biggest residential landlords with a plan to build 6,600 rental homes and gain from the shortage in decent housing stock. It promises to be one of the biggest privately run home building projects ever. Shariah-compliant Gatehouse Bank hopes to gain from the big shift in the country’s housing market away from buying to renting, as mortgages have become more scarce and unaffordable and prices have risen out of the grasp of many families. Gatehouse already has a £1bn property portfolio across the UK and US.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/islamic-gatehouse-bank-to-aid-uk-housing-crisis-8971137.html

Civil rights advocacy group says banks closed more accounts of Muslims

November 21, 2013

 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations–Michigan is asking federal officials to investigate more complaints that JPMorgan Chase is allegedly closing bank accounts of Muslim customers in Metro Detroit.

“It seems like it’s solidifying our idea more that there’s a disturbing pattern going on,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR-MI. “These aren’t just isolated incidents.”

Spurred by about a dozen complaints in the past two months, the advocacy group has contacted the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates banks, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. CAIR-MI also received new complaints Thursday, Walid said.

One of the latest involved the checking and savings accounts for Annisa Patimurani, a Wayne State University graduate student.

The Indonesia native, who is married to an American and started attending WSU this year, said she applied and was approved without issue. But after weeks of local purchases for books and other necessities, her debit card suddenly stopped working last month, she said.

When Patimurani of Detroit visited her local Chase bank for answers, an employee told her the accounts had been closed. The explanation on file said the bank would not open one for people with ties to foreign officials, she said.

She later received a letter from Chase saying the bank is “no longer opening personal banking accounts for current or former non-U.S officials, their immediate family or their close associates.”

Patimurani was puzzled. When applying in person, wearing a hijab, she disclosed that her parents are retired Indonesian government officials, but was told this would not be an issue in securing accounts. “I just don’t understand why they need to discriminate against us,” Patimurani said.

A Chase representative said privacy reasons prevent the company from discussing details of its customer relationships. But “on occasion, Chase determines it can no longer maintain a customer’s account but those decisions are not based on the customer’s religion, ethnicity or any other similar basis.”

 
Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20131121/METRO08/311210142#ixzz2laPVdRVY

Could principles of Islamic finance feed into a sustainable economic system?

October 18, 2013

 

Islamic finance has been a significant global force for the past few decades, but in recent years sharia-compliant saving and investing have become more common. For example, in June, Goldman Sachs provided a loan to Arcapita Bank, an Islamic investment company, that in compliance with sharia law did not charge interest. In July, a US-based trade association, the World Council of Credit Unions, published a manual explaining to would-be community financiers in developing countries how to operate sharia-compliant credit unions.

Western discussions of sharia law often focus on extremist groups imposing brutal interpretations of these legal codes on unwilling populations. But sharia law, which derives from the Qur’an and the religious teaching of Islam, can also be applied to the finance sector. Importantly, Islamic finance can be seen as part of a wider movement towards the promotion of sustainability as a key element of economic life.

The basic premise under sharia law that no one should profit purely from money leads to a shift in both parties’ perspective away from the short-term transaction and towards the longer-term relationship and its consequences.

In short, the structures that have evolved do away with classic debt – and the banks that provide such financing – in exchange for direct participations in risk and reward. For example, an ijara can be used to purchase real estate for the purpose of leasing it out to tenants and the rental income is distributed pro rata to subscribers. A sukuk is a fully negotiable certificate that can be bought and sold on the secondary market, and allows the new owner to “step into the shoes” of the original holder, taking all the rights, obligations and liabilities relating to the underlying assets that accompany the certificate.

Importantly, participants in an ijara and holders of a sukuk have no guaranteed return and are all economically aligned in the long-term success of the project. If the project fails, they cannot simply take their profits to date and sell of the loan collateral to make themselves whole. As a result, Islamic finance encourages the creation of social value alongside economic value.

But Islamic finance is a legitimate expression of an economic philosophy of the use of money. This shouldn’t be stigmatised or criminalised – especially in light of the excesses and abuses that preceded the recent global financial crisis.

Islamic finance is becoming an important part of important emerging economies in the Middle East and Asia – high-growth markets where businesses will want to compete and succeed. And the Muslim population is continuing to grow and can be an engine for further growth.

 

The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/islamic-finance-sustainable-economic-system

Migrants to the Netherlands Send 8 Billion Euros Home Annually

April 4 2013

 

New research from the Dutch National Bank indicates that migrants send at least 8 billion euros a year to their countries of origin, mostly Turkey, Morocco, the Antillean Islands, Indonesia and Germany. The figure does not include transfers made via informal channels such as cash withdrawals from local banks during holidays.

New helpline for Muslim women may be Canada’s first

News Agencies –  November 15, 2012

 

Months before the Muslim women’s helpline was launched, the phone at the Mississauga-based Women’s Resource Centre started ringing. In October 2012, after months of research, training and fundraising, the Women’s Resource Centre launched what is believed to be the country’s first helpline specifically for Muslim women. Confidential and anonymous, it’s meant to be a place to which women can turn for emotional support, peer counselling and referrals.

In its first few weeks, the helpline has already received dozens of calls from women across the GTA, with concerns ranging from marriage and relationships to information on shelters and food banks, and in a few cases, abuse.The helpline is staffed by 13 counsellors and is open for two hours a day, five days a week.

Six banks attacked in retaliation for an anti-Islam video

Six major American banks were hit in a wave of computer attacks last week, by a group claiming Middle Eastern ties, that caused Internet blackouts and delays in online banking.

Frustrated customers of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and PNC, who could not get access to their accounts or pay bills online, were upset because the banks had not explained clearly what was going on.

A hacker group calling itself Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters — a reference to Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, a Muslim holy man who fought against European forces and Jewish settlers in the Middle East in the 1920s and 1930s — took credit for the attacks in online posts.

The group said it had attacked the banks in retaliation for an anti-Islam video that mocks the Prophet Muhammad. It also pledged to continue to attack American credit and financial institutions daily, and possibly institutions in France, Israel and Britain, until the video is taken offline. The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq were also targeted.

Last week, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said in an interview on C-Span that he believed Iran’s government had sponsored the attacks in retaliation for Western economic sanctions. The hacker group rejected that claim. In an online post, it said the attacks had not been sponsored by a country and that its members “strongly reject the American officials’ insidious attempts to deceive public opinion.”

Such attacks are fairly common and generally don’t compromise sensitive data or do any lasting damage. Still, they can be a huge headache for companies that rely on their websites to interact with customers.

The hackers maintained that they were retaliating for the online video. “Insult to the prophet is not acceptable, especially when it is the last Prophet Muhammad,” they wrote.

Robbers, disguised as Muslim women, hit banks in Philadelphia

A string of bank robberies, carried out by people disguised in traditional Islamic woman’s garb, has prompted concerns among religious, government and law enforcement officials in the Philadelphia area.

The robberies, at least five since December, were carried out by people wearing full-length robes and veils to hide the hair and part of the face, according to some surveillance tapes broadcast by local stations in Philadelphia. Muslim leaders fear use of the disguises could put Muslim women in danger or make them objects of scrutiny.

“We regard this act as discriminatory,” Imam Isa Abdul Matin told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. “It is in actuality a type of hate crime against Muslims.”

The Muslim leaders offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the robbers.

The use of Muslim disguises seems to be contained to the Philadelphia area, according to Muslim groups and law enforcement officials.

In the past, bank security officials in other parts of the country raised concerns about the potential for Muslim head scarves to hide identity, Amina Rubin, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said by telephone from Washington, D.C. They were worried that the scarves might hide faces from security cameras; when shown that the scarves don’t in fact hide faces, they were satisfied, she said.